Extended family connects Việt Nam. The serious new music scene in Hà Nội is bursting with energy and everyone here knows it. Two compositional generations separated by war are beginning to join forces. Two elder statesmen, Nguyễn Thiên Đạo and Tốn Thất Tiết, expatriated in the 1950s to Paris, in the process establishing the most sophisticated foundation for new music of any country in Asia.
As the young postwar Hà Nội-born generation moves into its maturity, the two forces will speak together internationally. The rest of the world will be paying notice.
If the subject of serious new music in Việt Nam is new to you, I’m here to open your eyes and ears. For starters, remember these four names: Trần Kim Ngọc, Nguyễn Thiên Đạo, Tốn Thất Tiết, and Vũ Nhật Tàn.
Việt Nam is no longer a country defined by a century of war with France, Japan, France again, and the United States. These musicians have a lot to say to the world community about what happened here. It’s about time we listened.
So let’s get some introductions started.
As I’ve gotten to know Ngọc on this trip to Hà Nội I’d been struck by the thoroughness of her vision. She had analyzed what was needed in the Hà Nội music scene and done something about it. Founding Đom Đóm Music, an experimental performance space at Zone 9 on the edge of the French Quarter, she’s attacked a lot of critical issues with the eyes of a tiger.
It didn’t hurt formulating her Hà Nội vision that she studied with Karlheinz Stockhausen.
She was encouraged to attend his summer courses in 2003 and 2004 by her teacher in Cologne, German dynamo Johannes Fritsch. That’s enough pedigree to stamp her card anywhere in the world. She also spent serious time in Queens, NYC observing the avant garde scene of America from the Hudson River.
Her work now is driven by musical theatre projects and the changing landscape of being a wife, mother and composer in Việt Nam. She counts Mauricio Kagel as a great inspiration. More on this in a later post. Her The Spider Weaves Its Web had a great reception at the 2010 Ultima Festival in Oslo, Norway.
My next thumbnail sketch is for Nguyễn Thiên Đạo who, along with Tốn Thất Tiết, moved to Paris for safe haven with his family as a young child.
Đạo has for me a symbolic name: The Path as in the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu. A student of Olivier Messiaen, his music is uncompromising. Think Vietnamese Xenakis, who was also a good friend. Messiaen urged him to remain completely Vietnamese to find his compositional voice. Đạo’s done that in spades.
He suffers no fools and I love him for it. There are no apologies for the serious thought he brings to composition. Just rent Apocalypse Now if you wonder why his aesthetic is not full of happy talk music. He has major works about the Việt Nam War that are powerful statements that will stand the test of time. Coming soon to a concert hall in LA…
And what a great way to start lunch: he said off the bat he was going to write a major piece for our next LA International New Music Festival. Jan and I were thrilled! We spent a good amount of time discussing every topic under the sun and are both on the same page building a lasting friendship.
Vũ Nhật Tân also lead the way to Cologne for Trần Kim Ngọc, taking great inspiration from Johannes Fritsch. He also spent time at UCSD studying with Cambodian Chinary Ung. Tân’s been at the forefront of our trip to Hà Nội. His love of texture becomes more apparent as our relationship grows. His street food tour of Hà Nội is besting all our preparation by a mile as he uncovers the fabric of his city, a metaphor for his music.
He’s headed to France in January/February 2014 to work on a score for veteran director Đàng Nhật Minh. Paris is never far away.
Finally, there is Tốn Thất Tiết, well known for his score to the film The Scent of Green Papaya. His music is the most patient I’ve ever performed. The ultimate in Buddhist mindfulness in sound. He comes from Huế, the ancient capitol of Việt Nam. Taught by André Jolivet, he is looking forward to his next world premiere here in Hà Nội this December of Thánh Gióng. Generations are connecting.
I do know you’ve probably not heard of these composers: we pay the American premiere rights on a regular basis! And I’ll just keep at it until everybody else hops on. So look for full posts on each composer individually in the coming month. This should get you started.
An upcoming post will focus on the other side of the coin. We’ve heard enough new players here to be very encouraged about the future of the musicians of Việt Nam. Skype rehearsals are under discussion between Jan and a tremendous eager young ensemble, the Sông Hồng Players. Their upcoming repertory after two meals of thoughts and plots?
Black Angels by George Crumb.
The Dragon Awakes…
Best, best, best,